The striking similarities between Trump and LePage

The striking similarities between Trump and LePage

On Friday, February 26th, Governor LePage endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, adding that Trump “could be one of the greatest presidents ever.” He then seemed to compare the billionaire to Abraham Lincoln, which comes as something of a surprising move, since Trump supporters aren’t overly fond of the Great Emancipator.

The endorsement itself, however, wasn’t terribly surprising. LePage initially endorsed Chris Christie, and now that Christie has dropped out and endorsed Trump, it was really only a question of time. And, as the governor himself has pointed out, there are some striking similarities between the two executives.

Trump boasts of the laws he will break should he be elected; LePage boasts of the unethical and illegal actions he has already taken in office. LePage was in my town just the other day, reiterating the xenophobia that constitutes his policy regarding people officially recognized by the federal government as asylum seekers; Trump won his place on the electoral map with xenophobia. Neither Trump nor LePage will ever hesitate to use racist tirades to excite their base, or deign to apologize for the consequences of their hate speech.

The most significant similarity between Governor LePage and Trump, however, and the one that should most concern us in the last days before the Maine Caucus, is the political strategy that each man has used in their rise to power. LePage was elected the first time with 37% of the vote; after four years in office, with all the advantages of name recognition and the opportunities afforded to form coalitions in office, he was re-elected with a minority share of the vote.

It’s not surprising that the LePage years began with a plurality, but not a majority, of votes. After the wealthy Elliot Cutler failed to win the Democratic nomination in 2010, he ran as an independent, splitting the majority vote. And, after all, although Barack Obama was initially elected with over 50% of the popular vote, neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush were. But Obama and Bush were both re-elected with a majority vote. The assumption in political science is that anyone elected with less than majority support will try to expand their base, in order to create a governing coalition that enables them to achieve, once in office, whatever policy goals they have.

That has never been true of Paul LePage, however. He has never exhibited much interest in expanding his governing coalition. Other public officials seem to interest him only as instigators of his grievance and self-pity. He isn’t just uninterested in bipartisan coalition-building; he rejects even members of his own party who won’t become part of his base.

Our governor has boasted that “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” but he seems to only be referring to the billionaire’s vulgar bombast. It’s LePage’s political model, however, that Trump appears to be emulating. The crowded electoral field, and the media’s fascination with hateful, racist buffoonery, have enabled Trump’s rise. Like LePage, he will accept new supporters, but he refuses to engage in the difficult democratic work of forging governing partnerships. He excites his base with misogyny, racism, and resentment, confident that, come election day, thuggery will motivate his plurality of the electorate to do what a divided, factional, alienated majority won’t.

The resentments, factions, and egoistic zeal of the generation that ratified our Constitution were epic, and yet they managed to cohere enough, to make enough compromises (including, yes, remarkably evil compromises in defense of slavery), to assemble a government. Surely we can coalesce enough to govern, or to vote for people who are willing to do so.

Maine’s caucuses are coming this weekend, March 5th and 6th. Democrats will have plenty of opportunities to battle the forces of entropy; now is the time for Maine Republicans to defend their party, their state, and their country from people who think an angry and frightened plurality entitles them to debase American democracy. Even Paul LePage knew, just ten days ago, what a mistake a Trump victory would be. Maine GOP caucus locations can be found here, Maine Democratic locations here. Please participate if you can, and let’s make this week the beginning of the end of rule by a hateful, but more energetic, minority vote.

About author

Ron Schmidt
Ron Schmidt 45 posts

Dr. Ronald Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine.

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